UN Palestinian agency faces 'existential crisis'

Palestinian children hold bread patties during a protest against aid cuts, outside the United Nations’ offices in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip in this file photo.(AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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UN Palestinian agency faces 'existential crisis'

UNITED NATIONS:One month after the Trump administration announced a drastic funding cut to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, only one country, Kuwait, has stepped forward to offer additional funding, senior UNRWA officials said Friday.
The United States announced in January that it would give $60 million to UNRWA - a fraction of the more than $350 million annual contribution that it has provided to the agency's budget.
Kuwait stepped in to contribute $900,000 and about 15 donor countries including Sweden and Japan decided to speed up their donations to keep UNRWA afloat, said Peter Mulrean, UNRWA's representative in New York.
But Mulrean told reporters at UN headquarters that the agency was facing an "existential financial crisis" as it seeks to fill the gap from the US funding cut.
The United States is the biggest single donor to UNRWA which provides schools and health clinics to 5.3 million refugees in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley last month said the United States would not provide aid to the Palestinians until they agree "to come back to the negotiation table" and reach a peace deal with Israel.
"The US has not yet explained to us the rationale behind its decision on the $60 million," Mulrean said, adding that Washington had not presented any concerns about reforms.
In an interview to Voice of America, Haley said UNRWA needed to be reformed, because they consider "any Palestinian as a refugee" and "what they're teaching in schools is not necessarily the right way to have things run."
UNRWA has been repeatedly accused of promoting anti-Israel sentiment in schools, a charge it has flatly rejected.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will attend a ministerial-level donors' conference for UNRWA to be held next month in Geneva to fill the gap in funding, but it remains unclear if the United States will attend.
UNRWA's director for the West Bank, Scott Andersen, said all of the agency's services remain up and running for the time being, but that the decision had left many Palestinians anxious.
"People are frightened and concerned about what this means for them, their families and their future," he said.


Erdogan: Turkish court will decide fate of detained US pastor

Updated 26 September 2018
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Erdogan: Turkish court will decide fate of detained US pastor

  • ‘This is a judiciary matter. Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges’
  • ‘Let’s wait and see what the court will decide’

NEW YORK: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said a Turkish court, not politicians, will decide the fate of an American pastor whose detention on terrorism charges has roiled relations between Ankara and Washington.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful Turkey would release evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson this month. He was moved to house arrest in July after being detained for 21 months.
In an interview on Tuesday while he was in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly meetings, Erdogan said any decision on Brunson would be made by the court.
“This is a judiciary matter. Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges ... On Oct 12 there will be another hearing and we don’t know what the court will decide and politicians will have no say on the verdict,” Erdogan said.
If found guilty, Brunson could be jailed for up to 35 years. He denies the charges.
“As the president, I don’t have the right to order his release. Our judiciary is independent. Let’s wait and see what the court will decide,” Erdogan said.
US President Donald Trump, infuriated over Brunson’s detention, authorized a doubling of duties on aluminum and steel imported from Turkey in August. Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on US cars, alcohol and tobacco imports.
The Turkish lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year on concerns over Erdogan’s grip on monetary policy and the diplomatic dispute between Ankara and Washington.
“The Brunson case is not even closely related to Turkey’s economy. The current economic challenges have been exaggerated more than necessary and Turkey will overcome these challenges with its own resources,” Erdogan said.
Turkey’s central bank raised its benchmark rate by a hefty 625 basis points this month, boosting the lira and possibly easing investor concern over Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy.
Erdogan said the decision was a clear sign of the central bank’s independence, adding that as president he was against increasing rates.
He also said Turkey will continue to purchase Iranian natural gas, despite US sanctions on Tehran.
Erdogan said it was impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue with Syrian President Bashar Assad in power, adding that the withdrawal of “radical groups” had already started from a new demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib region.